In Between: Living With Untreated Mental Illness

Unconventional Activist
4 min readMay 23, 2022



It’s 2:35 PM on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. About an hour ago, I just finished facilitating a fantastic experience with a group of beautiful humans who want to change the conditions in their communities. Before the practical things, we dived deep into our why — the reasons that we want our communities to be healthier, happier, safe, and liberated. It was a day that started at 5:30 AM. Much like other days, I awaken in a somber mood, and then I connect with others whose pain both motivates them and propels their purpose, and I leave feeling inspired.

But it all came to a complete stop at 2:35 PM. As I was driving home — the phone rang. The screen says “Pat — 2021”. I ask myself, can I do this today. I take three deep breaths before I answer. For a brief moment, I pause. Within seconds, I quickly put myself aside in fear of what may occur if I don’t respond. So I do. And the following occurs within one and half minutes.

Me: “Hello”

Her: “Where are you?”

Me: “Driving on the highway, why.”

Her: “Where are you coming from (angry tone).”

Me: “I worked today. I am stuck in traffic. Why what is wrong?”

Her: “______ won’t talk to me (escalated emotional tone). I don’t want to be here. No one comes to see me. No one checks on me. I am better off dead. Once I fix my will. I will throw myself in front of a truck, and you don’t have to worry about me anymore.”

She hangs up the phone.
I allowed the call to end.
I didn’t call her back.

When the call ends, I look at the GPS, and I realize that my 20-minute commute has become a one-hour delay. My emotions shift now, and I am reminded once again of the complexities of being connected to a parent with untreated #mentalhealth issues.

This isn’t the first time I have received this call. I have been on this journey with Pat-2021 for almost twenty years.

Pat — 2021 is my biological mother. I haven’t lived with her since the age of 5. She has always existed on the margins of my becoming. While another mother raised me, Pat has always had some periodic presence as we were cared for by another family. She would often drop by the house, chat, and return to her life less than 10 miles away. Sometimes for months and probably years. I remember her presence for some milestones and her glaring absence for others. As I grew older, we had some version of a relationship. Some Mother’s Days, some cookouts, and some holidays. Never a birthday, life achievement, or graduation. And most of the time, it was me, making sure she wasn’t alone during those times when the lack of family connections was more salient. This unusual connection went on for many years.

Until I realized she wasn’t evolving.

During my late 20s, I completed my undergraduate degree in counseling and then my graduate degree in my late 30s. Working in my local community, I saw how trauma created conditions of hurt across generations. And this unaddressed trauma seemed to be connected to unequal outcomes for Black and Brown families. I decided then that I would be a counselor, and it became my degree concentration.

I discovered the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR) on this journey. The DSM is required text and is provided as a reference manual to understand, classify, treat, and research mental disorders. The DSM gives you a new lens. Once you see it, you cannot unsee it. This text, along with my other academic courses, challenged me to understand my story and the presence of #mentalhealthchallenges that were unspoken influences on my childhood journey. As I have grown older, these implicit influences have become conditions I have to manage as my biological mother reaches the other end of her life.

Though May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, I have an ever-present reminder of those living with untreated mental health conditions. And each day, I try to find ways to manage someone who either does not want to get treatment or the trauma connected to her situation is too painful to confront. Either way, many people like myself face similar challenges as the one I experienced Saturday afternoon. And in many cases, those calls create trauma for us as well. We constantly find ourselves caught in between. An in-between that cannot be explained or addressed when our loved ones resist care.

I share this story because I am far from alone. As a facilitator, I often have the gift of listening to stories. And in Saturday’s session, I heard several stories. All of which had trauma past and present. And we aren’t receiving care. In some cases, the journey ends, and the trauma remains with those they leave behind.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four people worldwide has a mental illness. Most of these people, about 400 million, don’t get the care they need. If 400 million people with mental illness seek treatment, that is 400 million families suffering alongside them. This also means families are being affected by caring for family members with untreated mental illness.

Every day of every month is an excellent time to raise awareness of the importance of #mentalillness. However, if I can offer anything from my story, I would stress the importance of taking care of oneself and breaking down the stigma of mental illness. Discuss the hard truths around mental health early and often. Normalize seeking care when we are not okay.

Lastly, create safe spaces for healing. Future generations deserve liberation from the harms of our past. Our communities need it.



Unconventional Activist

Unapologetic Black Woman, Policy Professional, Activist, Lover of Politics, Mom of Twins, Doctoral Student, Writer